Letter From The Editor

At times the process of translation often feels like fixing things broken during shipping. As convenient as it might be, a poem can’t be translated from one language to another and remain whole; the text necessarily becomes smaller and more fractured as it’s worked. In the process of translation a story breaks down into paragraphs, sentences, phrases, words, and sounds that are each catalogued and weighed and translated. All the while there’s a fear that translating a text will only yield fragments, leaving merely a box of pieces, in variously broken and lossy states. But that transitional moment of imperfection, of seeing clearly what is so-called “lost in translation,” is where the practice and reading of translation begins in earnest.

Kevin McNamee-Tweed’s intriguing glazed stoneware provides the inspiration for this issue’s title, “Fragments.” The colors, objects, and scenes depicted in these clay pieces are striking enough, but what makes them all the more engaging is the varied, irregular shapes of the stoneware itself. Some of the edges seem as if there might be a complementary fragment that could fit alongside. Perhaps elements have chipped away, or maybe the pieces have been separated from a larger central whole. While each piece at first appears finished on its own, its rough, torn contours seem to suggest connections—seem to reach out for more. This issue’s translations likewise invite us, as readers, to encounter them as they are, and also to imagine possible connections and origins, alternative divisions.

Any one of the translations in this issue could serve as an example of these fragments and their connections, but Cole Heinowitz’s translation of Mario Santiago Papasquiaro comes to mind for its bombastic, idiosyncratic style, which Heinowitz has matched in English. “The echoing string of this a cappella tour de forceps ((1 bison engraved in the placenta of Altamira)) resounds in the Ingres violin of these pages / which as a rule of thumb barely contain 10% of his principle opera’s red blood cells.” Reading this translation demands participation as the reader finds references and jagged edges where the original text and culture and audience butt up against the English translation. In anti-establishment Papasquiaro’s case, echoing in the background is a stagnant Mexican literary scene and the various avant gardes, both familiar and unfamiliar to most English readers, he draws upon to create something wholly new. Heinowitz’s translation is equally angry and defiant as Papasquiaro, taking creative risks as she matches Papasquiaro’s sharp-edged poetry.

Translation was famously compared to stoneware by Walter Benjamin in “The Task of the Translator.” He wrote, “Fragments of a vessel which are to be glued together must match one another in the smallest details, although they need not be like one another. In the same way a translation . . . [makes] both the original and the translation recognizable as fragments of a greater language, just as fragments are part of a vessel.” It is our hope that you feel inspired to look for the places where the edges of the translations in this issue reach out to other possibilities of language and translation. Like McNamee-Tweed’s complete but fragmentary pieces, these translations are proudly rough edged and beautiful. And most especially, we hope that you notice and appreciate the traces of the translators in the text, the human element in a very human work.